I took a luxurious three weeks off of work in September and ended up canning quite a bit. I started out big and ambitious with fresh tomato sauce. I walked to the amazing Monterey Market which is about twelve blocks from my house and bought pounds of organic roma tomatoes, tons of onions and garlic, two bunches of carrots and a head of celery. Ten hours and seven quarts of tomato sauce later, every muscle in my body ached and my fingernails appeared permanently dyed red from peeling the blanched tomatoes (despite much washing.) I thought I was done with canning forever. But just a few days later I was back at it, making a big pot of organic apple sauce.
Happily, apple sauce is not only much quicker and easier to make than tomato sauce, it's also easier to can because it's more appropriate for pint jars, instead of quarts. All you do is peel the apples, core them, chop them into pieces so they'll cook more quickly, dump them in a big pot with some liquid (apple cider, apple juice, or water are all good), add your sweetener of choice (or none, if you prefer unsweetened) and whatever spices you like (I go with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg) and simmer until the apples fall apart. Then you can either blend the sauce to your desired consistency or leave it as is, if you prefer your sauce chunky. I'd like to give a quick plug for immersion blenders, they are an amazingly useful little appliance. No need to pour soups or sauces from pot to blender or cuisinart - the immersion blender (which looks like some sort of weird sex toy the first time you see it) allows you to blend as much or as little as you want right in the pot or bowl. Apparently, they now make these cordless though I've never found having to plug mine in to be particularly inconvenient.
The canning is easy as pie -- sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water, heat your applesauce until it's bubbling, then ladle it into the sterilized jars, leaving half an inch of headroom. Drop the sterilized lids onto the filled jars and twist the tops on, then boil for 20 minutes in the canner (making sure that the tops of the jars are well-covered by the water.) Then remove the jars and set them in a draft-free spot to cool overnight. You should hear that magical pop, pop, pop as the jar lids seal after the sauce has cooled enough to contract, sucking the jar top down to make an air-tight seal. Click here for more in-depth instructions.
The applesauce was so easy that I figured I'd try my hand at pickling some veggies. I picked up some good-looking blue lake green beans at the Berkeley Bowl (another Berkeley institution) and four pounds of pickling cukes at Monterey Market and set about making dilly beans and dill pickles. I had planned to make the beans at the same time as I canned some dill pickles but after reading about twenty recipes for dill pickles I decided to brine them in salt water overnight. The green beans were not too much trouble - basically you clean and pare them and pack them with pickling spices and dill heads in pint jars, then pour a boiling vinegar-water-spice mixture into the jars, seal and boil for ten minutes. The main downside to this endeavor was the intense smell of vinegar that filled my entire apartment within minutes which I've been unable to get rid of since. So caution to those of you who live in small spaces without great ventilation...
The dill pickles were similar (and added another dose of vinegar to my apartment.) I sliced them into quarters ('cause there was no way I was fitting more than two or three into the jars whole) and packed them in quart jars with garlic cloves, dill heads, yellow and black mustard seed and a few grape leaves. The grape leaves are a more natural substitute for the mineral alum which is often added to pickles to make them crunchier, apparently, the grape leaves have the same effect on cukes. Unfortunately, two of the jars expanded more than I'd expected during the final boiling, denting the tops (although they appeared to seal upon cooling.) Since I would feel bad killing my friends, family and neighbors, I've elected to keep those two quarts in the fridge and open them in two weeks (the recipes suggested waiting two weeks before eating to allow time for the "pickling" to reach a good point). I have not tasted them yet but have high hopes. They look good, at least!